Wilco gets back to the basics
May. 04, 2007
Five minutes and 35 seconds into Wilco's "Impossible Germany" lays a bantering set of repeating two-chords that seem to encapsulate not only the spirit of Sky Blue Sky, but ultimately the evolution of the band and its musical auterist, frontman Jeff Tweedy, as a whole.
In the midst of a dueling guitar solo between Tweedy and newest band member/guitar virtuoso Nels Cline, Tweedy simply drops out, leaving Cline's hypnotic blocked two-chord banter to close out the track. These chords build up in pitch in a manner that is both mysterious and optimistic.
Then, as the song comes to a close, Cline adds one more note to this typical pattern of threes and simply lets it linger for a second. But this lingering moment actually manages to bring an apt ending to what would have been an unconquerable banter and provides an entirely new element to both a track and a band in a typically unexpected fashion: resolve.
These chords show a new Wilco — a hopeful Wilco. Many longtime fans will presumably be taken aback upon first listen. The songs of Sky Blue Sky are largely simplistic and direct, a stark contrast to the subtleties and experimentation that became staples of 2002's Yankee Hotel Foxtrot and 2004's A Ghost Is Born. This stems largely from the philosophical changes Tweedy has undergone since these records, (both on a musical and personal level). He said he has simply come to an honest point in his life in which complexities and hidden messages simply aren't needed anymore.
Another key change Wilco has made is in the production. Tweedy has very publicly said he feels some of the most recent Wilco albums have been, at least, a bit overproduced, and he fears part of the essence of the songs might be lost in all the clutter.
His fears might be the reason for the simplistic and toned down production of Sky Blue Sky, where studio tricks and manipulated guitar feedback are traded for underscored production that allows the fine musicianship of a truly unified group of six to shine though (for the first time they recorded and produced the entire album as a collective unit in their Chicago loft). This lighter approach also provides a serene backdrop to Tweedy's heartfelt, trembling lyrics.
And cohesion seems to be the key word with this album. While Yankee Hotel Foxtrot might stand the test of time as the band's masterpiece, it couldn't even hold a candle to Sky Blue Sky in terms of cohesion.
Every song on the album, from the sunny intro of "Either Way" to the eerie but still ultimately hopeful outro of "On and On and On," feels both symmetrical and necessary.
In the most basic terms, this is a real album, a concept that seemed possibly extinct forever in the realm of iTunes singles and music videos.
No one part seems more important than its whole. They all simply feed off of each other to form something together which is ultimately brilliant.
This album has already become a polarizing one for those in the music community, sparking a debate as to whether this is a giant fearful step backward for Wilco or its boldest step forward. But in reality, both of these concepts are over-thought.
The truth seems to lie in Tweedy's opening words of "What Light," the stand-out song of the album: "If you feel like singing a song, and you want other people to sing along, just sing what you feel, don't let anyone say it's wrong."
Not fearful. Not bold. Just simple. Delightfully simple.